The Bad Good Men Do

By

Leonard Zwelling

When they die, they always say nice things about them. That’s what a eulogy is. It’s a praising of the recently departed. But I have a theory about these dead men. It only applies to men so far. It may well be true of dead women as well. I believe that famous men, those who have accomplished much, or risen to high office, or to advanced stations in life, have all done reprehensible things while alive or they wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did as defined by the big funeral.

This came to mind as a listened to the podcast Bag Man on which I blogged recently. This is the story of how the Department of Justice, in the midst of the Watergate hearings, also found that the sitting Vice President of the United States, Spiro T. Agnew, was a crook. He was a shakedown artist and an extortionist who could be readily bribed and was, even as he worked in the White House. But it is not Agnew to which I refer. It was the part of the story when President Richard Nixon had to choose someone to put pressure on Senator Glenn Beall of Maryland to put pressure in turn on his brother, federal prosecutor George Beall to stop the investigation of Mr. Agnew. Who did Nixon send? None other than the Chairman of the Republican Party in 1973, one George Herbert Walker Bush. And Bush went to the Senate and put on the pressure which could easily been interpreted as obstruction of justice. Fortunately, for history and the country, Bush failed at his assigned task and Agnew did eventually resign. This was fifteen years before Bush ran a racist presidential campaign (remember Willie Horton) to win the White House in 1988. Yet when President Bush 41 died recently, there was nothing but praise for his many accomplishments and great character. Many call him the best one-term president ever. And he may well have been. But he did some bad stuff, too. History should note this as well.

I think the same is true in academia. As the recent reports from The New York Times have shown, many cancer center leaders are up to their eyeballs in financial conflicts of interest and that was surely true at MD Anderson in 2001 and 2002 and later in 2011. Fortunately, it appears the latest iteration of Anderson leadership has purged this nonsense from the upper reaches of his administration which is much to the new leader’s credit.

How about another example? Bill Clinton. They didn’t call him Slick Willie for nothing. And his wife, the ex-e-mailer in chief and former next President of the United States. Both of the Clintons have done a lot of good. And no doubt, after they die, great things will be said about them. But when their eulogies are written, perhaps it would be more instructive if the truth came out about the mistresses, the interns, and the e-mails.

I wish someone had told me what one had to do to succeed before I began my odyssey through academic administration. I learned the hard way in 2002 that I might have to defend my superiors in the press and in doing so subject myself to editorial criticism because of the defense. I also learned that there is no gratitude for having done so from those I defended as I was fired five years later as soon as the bulwark I had against dismissal, Dr. Kripke, retired. They made quick work of me, just as The Chronicle had done after ImClone. Thank you for your service, be gone, now.

There will be those who take offense at my mentioning these details. They shouldn’t. The one true measure of a life is measuring all of it, not just the good parts. It is my contention that only by studying all of a man’s (or woman’s) deeds does one learn from both good and bad examples, as my father-in-law always instructed the BW and me to do.

Eulogies are fine for the cameras and the gathered masses mourning a fallen leader. But only by completely examining their lives can one gain insight into what leadership was, is and can be. And what it sometimes, is not.

Leonard Zwelling